Thoughts from URBC on recent student occupations and fee strikes.

Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC) a national campaign comprising migrant students, lecturers, and activists fighting to end the two pronged beasts within UK higher education, that being of course border control via the hostile environment policy and exploitation brought on my neoliberal, marketised education. Unlike the student movement ten years ago which ignored the plight of international students, URBC has been a steadfastly free education campaign, believing that the fight for free education should be extended to migrants, whatever their immigration status.

The global pandemic has shown us more starkly, the structural inequalities that exist for migrants, whether you are a student, university staff, or a cleaner. During the first lockdown, URBC conducted a joint study and found that 56% of international students were either destitute or at risk of destitution because of woefully inadequate support structures in place at their respective universities, in addition to no recourse to public funds (NPRF), meaning that international students on a Tier 4 visa are prevented from accessing benefits, housing support and many other services that are available for British citizens.

For the past year, URBC has been fighting to protect international students who have been forcibly withdrawn off of their courses for simply being unable to pay the next instalment of their tuition fee. A withdrawal from a university means that these students now face visa curtailment and possible deportation. Many of these students have taken out exploitative loans in India that mean, without a degree and the ability to get a good job, they not be able to repay these loans and their families will lose their homes and go into bankruptcy. Meanwhile these students watch on the sidelines as family members and friends die of COVID as India enters a deadly second wave, while they are fighting to remain in the UK and complete their studies.

URBC is delighted to see students standing up and refusing to be further exploited and making links with migrant Black and PoC cleaners and other precarious members of staff, particularly lecturers on zero contract hours, However, URBC also believes that British students need to make further links how marketised higher education is affecting and harming international students. As we have said before, if international students are the ‘cash cows’ then British students are the ‘cash goats’ and universities during this pandemic have been all too eager to exploit all of you while putting university staff, cleaners and other custodial staff in harm’s way during a deadly pandemic. This is why URBC urges you to support our fight for Tuition Fee Amnesty NOW! URBC demands that until the pandemic is over, universities should waive tuition fees completely so as to not jeopardise further the immigration status of international students, particularly from working class backgrounds who are unable to pay tuition fees because of the pandemic. We can use this demand to galvanise a real movement for free education that is particularly needed now that doesn’t leave anyone out.

We cannot be organising in our silos anymore. We must see the neoliberal, marketised higher education as not only corrupt system, but contributing to structural inequalities and oppression from the woeful treatment of cleaners, to threats of staff redundancies, to the manner that universities are supporting Black Lives Matter to mask their institutionally racist policies, in addition to the manner that universities weaponise the immigration statuses of their students and staff. This is why we must work for bigger things, for demands that elevate, for demands that leave no one out, for demands that really push to end the draconian & oppressive structures within UK higher education.